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Ben Sidran: Swing State (Nardis)

A review of the pianist's first all-instrumental release in a recording career as a leader dating back to his 1970 debut

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Ben Sidran: Swing State (Nardis)
The cover of Swing State by Ben Sidran

Piano trios of yore were all about music that was “highly arranged to be loosely played,” as Michael Cuscuna aptly notes in the liner notes for Swing State, pointing to the approach veteran jazz-world force Ben Sidran takes on this set of standards. It’s his first all-instrumental release in a recording career as a leader dating back to his 1970 debut album Feel Your Groove. Sidran—once omnipresent as a broadcaster, singer, songwriter, music journalist, and producer—indeed leaves the guard rails up while allowing for creativity in the spaces between.

Sidran, joined by longtime collaborators Billy Peterson on upright bass and son Leo Sidran on drums, offers a pleasantly varied mix of styles, starting with the ambling swing of “Lullaby of the Leaves.” He brings out deep-blues shades on the opener and on his sole original, the rollicking title track, throwing in rolls and conversational, melodic single-note lines. And he turns in two takes of the ballad “Laura,” each built on a pulsing bass figure and Latin-tinged drum-set rhythms. 

“Stompin’ at the Savoy” is enhanced with a stair-stepping piano run and other adornments, and “Tuxedo Junction” thrives on a blues groove, heavy on the backbeat, and a relaxed swing section. “Ain’t Misbehavin’” almost gets rowdy, allowing Peterson his only solo of the session, and the leader goes it alone on a pretty version of “Over the Rainbow.” Sidran’s trio, solid and appealing, doesn’t break any new ground here: They mostly play it straight up the middle. But he certainly does right by these vintage gems dating back to the ’30s, demonstrating their continuing viability as springboards for engaging ensemble playing and joyful improvising.

Learn more about Swing State on Amazon and Apple Music


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Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. Sharkskin, the second album from his long-running band, Acme Jazz Garage, has aired on radio stations across the U.S.